Tookie Bright, LMSW-CC joined The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing two years ago during her graduate studies at the University of New England's School of Social Work. During this time, Tookie concentrated her efforts on developing and implementing the Healing Tree Children's Program: A program of the Dempsey Center that provides cancer education, support, and wellness services to children, adolescents, families, and communities affected by cancer. As the Children's Program Coordinator Tookie is responsible for programming, counseling services, support groups, educational outreach presentations, consultation services, evaluations, and reporting for youth and families. Tookie has a particular interest in art and play therapies and work with adolescents.
Questions and Answers
In my role as the Children’s Program Coordinator, I have the privilege to engage in a broad range of activities including clinical practice, program development, and research initiatives. Currently, I am focusing on a project that spans these areas in an effort to provide supportive programming for adolescents impacted by cancer in an appealing form with meaningful clinical interventions.
Although, current oncology research offers insight into the psychosocial effects of children and families impacted by an adult loved one's cancer, there is still only minimal guidance for evidence-based practice interventions for adolescent or pre-adolescent populations. With this in mind, I am working in collaboration with several professional partners to further this knowledge through focus groups, pilot programs, and evaluations of our current programming models.
The Teen Group is a coed, empowerment based, adolescent peer support and activity group that is open to any teenager impacted by cancer. Since its creation in June 2010, the group has evolved from three participants to 14. Although, the numbers might appear small, the success of this group is in the experience of these adolescents and in perspective to previous attempts at adolescent programming. This group not only substantiates current research findings about successful interventions for adolescents, but also has developed a model that may prove to be effective in other cancer centers or organizations.
This year, The Healing Tree Children’s Program of The Patrick Dempsey Center for Cancer Hope & Healing became a Community Partner with LIVESTRONG and implemented the SuperSibs! program into our services. Combining this opportunity with the experiential education gained from my current work with adolescents, I am in the process of developing a pilot program geared to the specific needs of adolescent siblings. The “Sibs at Sea” project will involve a five day retreat combining the use of recreational and narrative therapies. I am optimistic that this pilot program may also offer more insight into the needs of teenage siblings of youth diagnosed with childhood cancer.
What stands out for me about these two programs is also what has frustrated my predecessors, and that is the question of “how do we engage teenagers? How do we get them here? And how can we help them?” I have met professionals and administrators who believe that adolescent programming is a waste of time. I hope that through creative and innovative programming attempts and learning from our successes as well as our failures, that this stigma will be alleviated and more opportunities will arise to meet the needs of this underserved population.
All I can really speak to is what I remind myself most days - practice self-awareness regularly, balance humility but do not sell yourself short, and take risks if you can because good things come from failure too.
One of my all-time favorite books that I reflect back on often is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. This is a great book for navigating our world as social creatures and working amidst interpersonal relationships. Due to his use of stories, metaphor, and simple language the teens I work with also really connect with his lessons.
The second book that I rely on for guidance in my work is How to Help Children Through a Parent’s Serious Illness by Kathleen McCue, M.A., C.C.L.S. Kathleen McCue offers practical insight into the developmental needs of children and adolescents during times of stress and uncertainty, while also recognizing the dichotomy of roles in which seriously ill parents often find themselves. At the end of each chapter there is a summary page that offers bullet points for quick referencing. As a result of this easy format, I recommend this book to both patients and professionals alike.